A genuine legend of the sport, Carlo Ancelotti has had the pleasure of managing a nauseating amount of genuinely elite footballers across his time with the likes of AC Milan, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid.
Sorry, Everton. You’re not included in this. Thanks for that funny run in the 2020-21 lockdown season where you looked competent and actually exciting for a brief period under the Italian, but that’s as far as your involvement here goes.
Frankly, even if by some divine miracle Ancelotti had managed to deliver success in the form of silverware or European football at Everton by sculpting a memorable squad of cult heroes, it still probably wouldn’t stand any chance. The Italian manager has seen it all in the beautiful game and managed just about every top player you can probably imagine.
The flair of Vinicius Junior, the unrelenting desire to be the best of Cristiano Ronaldo, the technical excellence of Kaka, and the steel of John Terry, Ancelotti has made a career at the top out of succeeding anywhere he’s gone in Europe and always being the man to get the job done at a club where the pressure is always on.
It’s not as easy as it looks, getting the best out of a squad of 20+ world-class stars with egos through the roof, but he has a knack for it. We’ve taken on the unenviable task of trying to create the greatest starting XI of player he has managed, meaning there are quite a few glaring omissions.
You could probably host a round-robin tournament with the options available, in truth, so here’s a substitutes bench of honourable mentions before we kick off: Dida, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Marcelo, Frank Lampard, Toni Kroos, Andriy Shevchenko, Vinicius Junior, Gareth Bale.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
It was incredibly close between Dida and Courtois, but the towering Belgium just about takes the number one spot.
Courtois has truly cemented his legacy in recent years as the out-and-out, undisputed first choice in a Real Madrid side that is capable of shutting out anyone on the planet in pursuit of European glory, and he has been absolutely pivotal to that.
The man simply does not crumble under pressure. Imperious.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 11, 2023
The final club of his career, only Ancelotti could link up with an ageing Cafu and suddenly make him look timeless, playing a part in what many would argue was the best stint of his career.
Cafu turned down an opportunity in Japan to swap Rome for Milan in 2003 and never looked back. He’d win a second Scudetto, a second Italian Supercup and, as he wound down into a more bit-part role, finally got his hands on the Champions League that had evaded him for so long.
CB: Alessandro Nesta
A man that somehow flies under the radar when discussing greats in today’s game, Nesta was an absolute monster at the back.
He made being a centre-back look beautiful. Nobody should get away with that, but he did.
“He’s a second father, a coach who makes you live well even if he demands a lot,” Nesta explained of Ancelotti in 2021: “For him, I would have done anything.”
Nesta transformed from a great defender to an undoubtedly world-class one, and a winner, under Ancelotti. Can’t argue with that.
Alessandro Nesta – The art of defending pic.twitter.com/957PnHTit3
— abiy (@iievxs) May 11, 2023
CB: Sergio Ramos
Arguably the most complete centre-back of all time. Don’t even suggest otherwise.
Ramos and Ancelotti have said nothing but nice words about each other in the media when asked, and it’s no surprise considering they won the Champions League together in 2013-14; a moment that would set Ramos on a path to becoming one of the best in the world.
He’s a serial winner and has all the ability to back it up. You’d go to war with him and he would with you.
LB: Paolo Maldini
Come on. Who else?
Team-mates at Milan in the late 1980s and early 90s, they played together and became champions together. That made their Champions League wins together in 2003 and 2007 all the more special, among the other domestic dominance together at Milan.
Such a bond is rare in football these days. Two absolute legends of the game and undoubtedly Italian sporting royalty.
Paolo Maldini is one of the best defenders to ever play the game pic.twitter.com/diNLLCWwsA
— Former Footballers (@FinishedPlayers) May 5, 2023
CM: Clarence Seedorf
You can’t do a greatest XI and not include Seedorf.
The Dutchman remains the only player in football to have won the Champions League with three separate clubs. Consider that and his very obvious talent as a player, it makes it very difficult not to pick him. An all-round midfield maestro.
CM: Andrea Pirlo
Perhaps the only man that can rival Ancelotti for looking endlessly cool, Pirlo of course lines up alongside former Milan colleague Seedorf – who sit second and third respectively in Ancelotti’s all-time most-used players.
That range of pass, that technical ability, the leadership, and the devilishly handsome looks? Yeah. Absolutely.
He made football look far too easy.
They don’t make them like this anymore.
Andrea Pirlo pic.twitter.com/T2WeLGI15w
— Ojora Babatunde (@ojbsports) May 8, 2023
CM: Luka Modric
A man that is only getting his flowers more recently, Luka Modric continues to be the shining star in Real Madrid’s midfield under Ancelotti at the age of 37, playing just as key a role as he did a decade earlier during Ancelotti’s first spell in charge of the club.
The Croatian can do it all and has cemented his legacy as perhaps the best ever in his position in the last few years, with his all-round game showing very few signs of weakness. Los Blancos will struggle to replace this one.
Bear with us, here. Kaka obviously wasn’t a winger at his best, but for the sake of making this team as strong as possible, he’s starting on the flank.
Think of him drifting inside and playing as a false number 10/shadow striker, while a prime Cafu keeps the width and Modric floats between the two as a bridge.
The Brazilian was one of a kind. A majestic player in every way imaginable. Watching him burst onto the scene with Milan under Ancelotti was a special time for football, especially as they lifted the Champions League together.
Throwback to Carlo Ancelotti, Kaka, Dida and Ronaldo just chilling doing shisha… 😎 pic.twitter.com/QmcaFQMU13
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) March 15, 2022
ST: Karim Benzema
Beating out the likes of Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi, Benzema has unlocked new levels in recent years at Real and allowed Ancelotti to cling onto his excellence when they have needed to most.
A combination of the Italian affording him more responsibility and the Frenchman himself simply becoming a better player, the pair have worked seamlessly in Ancelotti’s second spell at Real; two veterans together, desperate to get back to the top of the mountain. And they did.
Under Ancelotti, Benzema finally realised his potential and fired himself to the 2022 Ballon d’Or award.
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the star man during Ancelotti’s first spell in Madrid, while Benzema played a more quiet role.
But it was for good reason. Ronaldo was simply unstoppable and continued to access lofty new heights that previously felt unthinkable. Going head to head with none other than Lionel Messi, the Portuguese winger began his transformation into a goal-getting centre-forward in the early 2010s and was the man to rely on for Ancelotti.
Este video es histórico. Carlo Ancelotti celebrando cómo Cristiano Ronaldo. 🤍
— MadridTotal (@MadridTotal_) May 4, 2023